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BARRY MARKOWITZ / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
At First United Methodist Church yesterday, bride Tolisi Vatikani, left, and groom Poese Vatikani were greeted by a man and the Rev. Robert Morley, far right, after their wedding. The three people who died in Friday's car crash on Likelike Highway were associated with the wedding.





Traffic deaths
mar wedding

The victims of a Wilson Tunnel
crash on Friday apparently
were rushing to a rehearsal



CORRECTION

Monday, April 19, 2003

Poese and Doris Vatikani's last name was misspelled yesterday in a story on Page A1.



The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at fbridgewater@starbulletin.com.

Instead of the white wedding dress she had picked out, Doris Vakitani wore black when she got married yesterday -- a day after three family members died and three others were injured in a crash on the Likelike Highway Friday afternoon.

Her two nieces and a nephew, who died in the accident, and three other relatives were apparently rushing to a 4 p.m. wedding rehearsal and driving an estimated 70 to 80 miles per hour in a rented sport utility vehicle when the SUV struck the town-bound entrance of the Wilson Tunnel, vaulted up a left concrete barrier, smashed into a lava rock wall and flipped over at least once.

Doris and Poese Vakitani considered canceling their wedding.

But family members, who had gathered from all over the Pacific, persuaded the Vakitanis to go on with the ceremony. The reception was canceled in favor of a family meal tonight.

Killed in the crash were Oahu residents Mary Filimoehala, 18, and 13-year-old Sosifa Naulu. Winnie Naulu, 26, of New Zealand also died in the crash. She was engaged, and her wedding set for Aug. 6.

Emeline Naulu, 21, was critically injured in the accident. Jasmine Lutui, 17, and the vehicle's driver, 19-year-old Jonathan Fonua of Los Angeles, also were injured.

The car came to rest 20 feet inside the tunnel. Its airbags did not deploy.

It's not known whether the vehicle's occupants were wearing seatbelts at the time of crash.

Police say speeding was a factor, and yesterday initiated three negligent-homicide cases against Fonua.

Family members said the group had been at a relative's house in Kaneohe and had not been drinking.

There were tears of sorrow, not joy, at the United Methodist Church on Beretania yesterday. Vakitani and her family struggled to get through what was supposed to be the happiest day of Doris Vakitani's life.

"Almost everyone was in tears," said Poese Vakitani.

His eyes were red from crying and lack of sleep. The groom, along with his bride, had stayed by the bedsides of the injured all night.

"I still don't really believe it," Vakitani said after the ceremony. The people in the SUV included a ringbearer and two bridesmaids. "We're just taking one day at time."

"I know that God is superior in everything," Vakitani said, taking a break from his rounds of offering strong hugs to tearful guests. "God wanted these people. ... There is a reason they were taken."

After the ceremony yesterday, family members gathered in the rear of the church to grieve and console one another as the new husband and wife posed for photos at the altar while struggling to come to terms with what happened.

"It's a tragedy," said Sharon Puniwa, whose cousins-in-laws were in the car.

"The family's devastated. ... It's really important that people know not to speed. They need to slow down. These children should not have died."

The Vakitanis, both of Tonga, flew in relatives from the mainland, New Zealand and Australia. Now, the family is thinking about planning another gathering.

"Three funerals in one day," said 16-year-old Salote Naulu, who lost her 13-year-old brother in the crash.

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